Day of the Dead (2008)

What's in a name? Well, quite a lot, really. By appropriating the title of one of George Romero's seminal zombie movies, Day of the Dead (2008) will manage to sucker in more viewers than it would have if it just carried some generic zombie-related title. Throwing Ving Rhames into the mix - especially since he was in the Dawn of the Dead remake, albeit as a completely different character - just compounds the trickery. Because no matter what the filmmakers might claim, this isn't a remake, nor is it a sequel. It's barely even a film.

Okay, it's managed to lift a couple of elements from the 1985 classic: there are zombies, there are military personnel, and there's even a zombie who's sort of friendly, or at least not actively trying to kill people, called "Bud." Which is sort of close to "Bub." That's as far as the similarities go, and even they're half-assed. Basically, the film is set in a small Colorado town which, for some reason, has become overrun with zombies. The military is trying to contain the infection by quarantining the town, although they're not doing a very good job.

Mena Suvari, slumming it to an extent previously unheard of (seriously, didn't she used to be in real films?) plays Sarah, possibly a Corporal, who has some kind of issue with guns and thus doesn't carry a loaded one. Handily, too, she's actually from the town suffering the zombie infection, so she both knows her way around and also has plenty of local family members to get killed or threatened throughout. Other characters of note include Sarah's brother Trevor and his girlfriend; a dodgy scientist who engineered the zombie virus in the first place; a rubbish radio DJ; a vegetarian private named Bud; and another army guy of unknown rank named Salazar. Or, alternatively, person 1, person 2, person 3... any characterisation that sneaked in was incidental, since everyone's just there to up the body count.

Quite honestly, it feels like either this script was dashed out the night before filming started and no-one bothered to notice it was crap, or it made perfect sense but then the director dropped it in the bath and half the pages were too soggy to read, but they ploughed on with the production anyway. It's just gibberish. No-one acts like a human being; no-one talks like a human being. And it really would have helped if someone, somewhere along the line, had done some research into how the military operates and how they speak to one another. (Incidentally, Ving Rhames only shows up for one scene where he delivers a couple of lines woodenly and then wanders off. Later, his character re-appears as a zombie, but it seems unlikely it was actually Rhames under all that CGI. He was, clearly, cast only so that his name could appear on the box.)

But in spite of all the logical holes, the lack of characterisation, the completely shambolic portrayal of the army (be honest, guys - you just wrote dialogue and then decided to put the actors in uniform, right?) the worst offence the movie commits, by a long shot, is to do with its zombie special effects. The merits of running zombies over shambling ones can be argued until we're all blue in the face, but there can't be anyone on earth who'd argue that Day of the Dead took the right approach to zombies. For about the first half an hour of the film, I couldn't quite work out what was wrong - the zombies were running, but there was something unnatural about their too-fast, too-jerky gait. All suddenly became clear a few scenes later: the footage had been sped up. Many of the zombies were actually lurching about in the manner most people associate with zombies... it's just that the film's editors had sped the film up until they looked like they were running.

And it gets worse.

At one point, there is a blatantly CGI zombie that crawls up the wall, skitters across the ceiling for a bit before dropping back onto the ground. At another, we watch someone transform from a living, perfectly normal human being into a zombie - using liberal amounts of CGI, again, their eyes change colour and dodgy computer-generated welts open up on their skin. Did anyone involved with this movie even stop to consider why it is that zombies look like that? Here, I'll clue you in: it's because they're walking dead people, and since they're corpses, they rot. That's why they look like they're decomposing. It's not an instantaneous process.

At yet another point in the movie, our heroes are crawling along an air vent (presumably just because it was on the checklist of horror movie cliches) when a zombie leaps up, presses its face against the vent, and just hovers there. Later, dozens of zombies throw themselves through windows, fall several stories to the ground, and get up and start running. Or lurching. There's very little film that hasn't been sped up, and as a result it all looks awful. Everything's too sharp-edged, too hyper-real. But not in a deliberate, stylistic way - more in the manner of someone who's just learning to use their DVD editing software and pressed a button to see what would happen.

Even the type of masochistic horror fans who deliberately set out to watch films they know will be bad couldn't enjoy this. It's too cynical, too joyless; it's clearly been made in order to make money, as evidenced by the titling and the casting. No-one involved in this wanted to make a good movie, they just wanted to make a fast buck. It's pitiful. Do yourself a favour and watch something - anything! - else, other than this.

IMDB link


S said...

Sounds truly abysmal. I reckon a few minutes footage on YouTube would give you about all this film has to offer (namely a few cheap laughs).

Thanks for suffering so we don't have to... ;)

Jon Peacey said...

Anyone would think this might have been one of those 'troubled productions'... or maybe the writer, director and producer were playing a version of that game where each person writes a word independent of the next... except they were doing a page each. And then the editor saw 28 Days Later for the first time and realised a way to keep the running time down.

The list of goofs on IMDB says it all- they can't even get the name of the lead character right in the credits!

Anonymous said...

Man, I keep almost renting this. I mean, come on, it's called Day Of The Dead. I feel like I should watch it. Let alone i have a thing for Suvari.

Then I start remebering the travesty that is Dawn Of The Dead. You know exactly which one I'm talking about. James Gunn and Zack Snyder (two guys who should'nt be my favorite things in the world because of this, but are). The memories. Bad fucking memories. hahahhahahaha it's a lounge version of Down With The Sickness. GET IT.

Man, I hate when they remake the good stuff. There's so much crap out there, just grab something that does not work and make it. Work, that is.

Jason Arnopp said...

Slater and I greatly enjoyed the first half of this - we loved the ceiling-zombie, although we were admittedly quite drunk.

Ghidorah said...

The sad thing is that no matter how bad it is I will have to check it out for myself sooner or later...

I already know I will lose 2 hours of my life!